Apr 5, 2022 - Health

White House COVID chief: "It's in our national interest" to vaccinate world

Photo of Jeff Zients speaking while gesturing with his hands, and Anthony Fauci standing behind him
White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients (left) and Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, brief reporters at the White House on April 13, 2021. Photo: Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images

White House COVID chief Jeff Zients said Tuesday that it was in the "national interest to vaccinate the world and protect against any possible future variant."

Why it matters: Senate negotiators have announced a deal on an additional $10 billion COVID funding package, though the bill lacks the $5 billion Democrats hoped to include to boost the distribution of vaccines to other countries.

What he's saying: At a White House briefing Tuesday, Zients emphasized that the insufficient funds remain a "real disappointment."

  • "The lack of global funding has real implications on our efforts to vaccinate the world," Zients said. "Without the additional global funding, USAID does not have the resources it needs to help countries get more shots in arms."
  • "We'll be forced to scale back the work we do to provide oxygen and other life-saving supplies to countries that need them. Our global genomic sequencing capabilities will fall off, and that undermines our ability to detect emerging variants beyond our borders."
  • "As I've said, the virus knows no borders," he noted.
  • "We need funding as quickly as possible. Congress needs to act with urgency to fund our global response so that we can accelerate our efforts to turn vaccines ... into vaccinations around the world."

The big picture: The COVID deal still falls far short of what top Democrats say is needed, though any lapse in domestic funding amid stalling in Congress would have serious setbacks for the U.S.' ability to ward off future surges.

Worth noting: Zients is set to leave his position in April and will be succeeded by Ashish Jha, who currently serves as dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

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